We live in a complicated and litigious world, so it’s essential to have a will and to keep it current. There are some things to consider as life events happen and at different stages of life. If you get married or divorced, if you own a business or capital property, be sure to get proper legal advice.
Your 20s and your first full-time job: When young, single and new to the workforce, having a will may be a low priority. But things change once you begin accumulating assets. For example, a prized car or a fine watch that you want to leave to someone special in your life just requires a simple will that explains who you want to leave your property to.
Marriage comes with legal rights and responsibilities, including becoming each other’s legal heirs. That means if you die intestate (without a will), your spouse is automatically entitled to a large share of your estate. So, why the need for a will? Perhaps you want to leave a portion of your estate to another beneficiary, such as your children or a close relative. It’s imperative that you and your spouse have wills that reflect your new desires and circumstances.
Your 30s and 40s – Births and adoption: Having a child provides strong motivation for making a will. At this stage, your will should designate a legal guardian who will be responsible for raising your children if something happens to you and your spouse. You might want to name a financial guardian (they can be the same person as the legal guardian) responsible for managing your children’s assets and inheritance until of legal age. And if desired, your will should include your children as beneficiaries of your estate.
Obtaining a major asset: When you acquire a substantial asset whether it’s a new home, a large inheritance or a stock that’s shot up in value, making a will that states how to distribute this property should be a priority. You might want to ensure that a particular person does not get access to it. You may want to reduce the inheritance tax on your estate by donating to a registered charity. Similarly, if you’ve recently disposed of a major asset, you should update your will to reflect that it’s no longer your property. Keeping your will current helps manage beneficiaries’ expectations and prevent unnecessary disappointment or turmoil.
Divorce: Different provinces have different divorce legislation as to your ex-spouse’s rights to your property even if you haven’t yet changed your will. With the advice of a lawyer you should update your will as soon as possible after a divorce, and put future choices in your hands.
Your 50s, 60s and older: If you’ve been diagnosed with a major illness, your thoughts may naturally drift toward writing or updating your will. If you already have a will, you should make sure that you’re satisfied with the current terms and confirm it meets all legal requirements. If you’ve been diagnosed with dementia you may want to provide evidence that you were of sound mind by videotaping yourself signing the will or asking a witness to speak to your state of mind.
There are other essential estate planning steps to consider such as Power of Attorney and Personal Directives. These allow a spouse or a trusted relative to make financial or medical decisions if you’re no longer capable of doing so, plus give instructions about your funeral and burial or cremation wishes.
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